Last time we took a detailed look at the making of the Danish comedy Takt og Tone i Himmelsengen, which climaxes with a somewhat stupendous spanking scene.
It was released on February 4, 1972, with a publicity strapline that described it as ‘festlig, fræk, forrygende, farverig’ (joyous, naughty, terrific, colorful). Whereas the version marketed in Britain and America, where a title like Takt og Tone i Himmelsengen would probably scare off audiences, got an even more enticing label apparently arising from a chain of tortuous free association, leading from the original title’s Himmelsengen (four-poster bed) to night-time, and thence to the 1001 Arabian Nights, to finally arrive (perhaps via Turkey) at 1001 Danish Delights.
And what a dumb title that is! It’s a promise the actual movie could never possibly fulfil, given that it only runs for 88 minutes – meaning a Danish delight roughly every five seconds! But my point is that, in the English-speaking market, the film’s declared appeal is encapsulated in just one word, delights, whereas in Denmark it rests on four different adjectives, even if they are all brought to you by the letter ‘F’. It could be almost symbolic.
Here’s the film’s poster:
The design, combining caricatures of the principal characters with line drawings of key scenes, has clear similarities with other Danish film posters of the preceding decade, not all of them for movies made by the same production company. There are dozens of them, but here are two not entirely random examples:
So the poster defines Takt og Tone as fundamentally belonging to the same genre: nudity notwithstanding, it’s not a sex film but a mainstream comedy, on the risqué side – Denmark being a culture which had, since at least the late 1950s, taken a more relaxed attitude to screen skin than Britain or America or even Germany. It has a coherent story that involves sex, a subject that was of especial interest to audiences during the sexual revolution of the Sixties and early Seventies, but the story isn’t just an excuse for sex. And it’s not the only example of this kind of movie in Danish cinema of the period.
So let’s take another film, this one released on March 3, 1972, exactly four weeks after Takt og Tone. It was in fact the very next acting job for Axel Strøbye, the Takt og Tone spanker, and like its predecessor, it was later exported to America and Britain. In Denmark, it was known as Rektor på Sengekanten (Bedside Headmaster), but it was distributed to the English-speaking world as Danish Bed and Board.
The comedy’s starting point is the progressive trend towards co-education in high schools. Krabbesögård School, based in a picturesque chateau, has just appointed its youngest ever headmaster, Max Mikkelsen, and he wants to admit girl pupils as well as boys. He faces opposition from the school board, who are convinced that this will only lead to an outbreak of permissiveness; there are grumbles about ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’. And in view of the compromising position they find Mikkelsen in here, they may, just may, have a point:
But they are persuaded to back the co-education proposal, so long as the headmaster raises the 100,000 kroner needed to pay for the necessary new facilities. Secretly, of course, they believe this will be utterly impossible.
The inventive head devises a suitable money-making scheme: during the summer vacation, he turns the school into a hotel, run by the school’s staff and boys. Among the former is the chambermaid Jytte (Susanne Jagd):
That was her lying down with Mikkelsen earlier, and true to form, she contributes to various naughty goings-on with the hotel guests which we really don’t need to explore in detail. What matters is that the hotel does cracking business, but still only raises 50,000 kroner. It seems that co-education at Krabbesögård is destined to be a thing of the none-too-immediate future.
Enter Mr Bosted, the Danish Minister of Culture (the role played by Axel Strøbye), a supporter of Mikkelsen’s progressive agenda, and incidentally his immediate predecessor as the school’s headmaster. Wanting to end the tradition of gender segregation, he persuades the government to put up matching funding, and an intake of girls duly arrives on the first day of the new school year. Bosted graces the opening ceremony with his presence, and Jytte serves drinks to the honored guests, including the still sceptical school board.
But the drinks have been laced with aphrodisiacs, so the start of co-education does indeed see the school turn into a new Sodom and Gomorrah. But not involving the teenagers, of either sex, because they weren’t the ones given drinks. The film ends with a frisky melee as the drug takes its effect on the assembled bigwigs while the Minister tries to make his speech, including a moment when one of the school board members, played by Karl Stegger, puts Jytte across his knee:
It has to be said that, compared with the climactic and narratively indispensable spanking scene in Takt og Tone, this is a completely incidental spanking: it’s attractive, especially since it’s given on the seat of Jytte’s panties, but it’s not something that’s been telegraphed earlier or moves the story onwards.
It is simply part of the orgiastic ending that compromises and embarrasses the reactionaries who opposed Mikkelsen earlier in the film. Score one for co-education, and one for free love too!
The movie is part of a series of comedies, the Sengekanten (or ‘Bedside’) films which ran from 1970 until 1976 and were each themed around a different professional situation: as well as the bedside headmaster, there was a bedside dentist, bedside sailors, even, bizarrely, a bedside motorway. There was a ‘repertory company’ of regular and recurring actors, among them Karl Stegger and Susanne Jagd, playing the same types but nominally different characters. And if you know anything about British comedy of the same period, that format might sound just a little familiar.
Danish Bed and Board may come across, because of its bawdy humor and occasional nudity, as a sex film. But really it’s much more like a Carry On film.
The Carry On films ran for twenty years (1958-78) and went through various formats, including a run of glorious genre parodies in the 1960s, before settling down to basic British bawdy in the ’70s. During this bit of the series, the only flirtation with M/F spanking was in Carry On Girls (1973), about the ructions in a seaside town when entrepreneurs try to drum up tourism by holding a beauty contest. One of the contestants, Ida Downs (Wendy Richard, best known in the Seventies as Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served?), gets playfully smacked on the bottom by Sid James, several times.
Later, the Admiral (Peter Butterworth), a hotel resident akin to the Major in Fawlty Towers, has a go himself, and she tells him forcefully that he’s a dirty old man.
‘Cheeky little thing,’ says the Admiral afterwards; ‘I’d like to put her across me knee.’ And the hotel manageress’s reaction accurately indicates that, regrettably, this is not a remark that’s going anywhere near fruition.
But even so, this does give us a meaningful point of comparison for the Danish movies. To develop the analogy, let’s consider another British comedy of the time that doesn’t contain any spanking at all, neither in word nor deed, but does revolve around women’s bottoms: Ooh… You Are Awful (1972), a vehicle for the comedian Dick Emery.
He plays Charlie Tully, a crook whose partner in crime, Reggie, stashed their ill-gotten gains in a Swiss bank and then inconveniently got himself murdered by the mob. Charlie needs to know the account number if he is to access the loot, and Reggie has noted it down in an unusual way: as a set of four tattoos on the four bottoms of his four girlfriends. Which means that the absurd story is all about Charlie’s quest to get a look at the bare bottoms of actresses Cheryl Kennedy…
and Anna Gilchrist.
The film is relevant here because the following year it was remade in Denmark as Mig og Mafiaen (Me and the Mafia), with the Dick Emery role taken by none other than the uncrowned king of Danish movie spanking, Dirch Passer. This time, he doesn’t get to do any spanking, and the four bottom-viewing situations are identical to the British original:
So these are a British and a Danish bawdy comedy that are not just examples of demonstrably the same genre, but are also, in effect, the same film!
But the two countries weren’t always so exactly on the same page, and a way of illustrating the difference is to start with where they overlap. Here’s a nice shot from Carry On Loving (1970):
And one from Carry On England (1976):
Meanwhile, in Denmark:
That’s part of Lone Hertz’s precision reverse to camera immediately after being spanked in Takt og Tone, and, seen purely as a piece of screen imagery, it’s not significantly different from the Carry On examples. The difference doesn’t lie in what it is but where it stands on a scale. A nice, big close-up of the seat of a girl’s panties is about as far as the Carry On films would usually go, whereas Takt og Tone also features bare bottoms:
In other words, the Danish bawdy comedies are the same type of film, only with more nudity: notwithstanding the unusual case of the Dick Emery film, the scale of what’s acceptable, what’s naughty and what’s obscene tended to be calibrated differently in the two countries.
So when Takt og Tone and Danish Bed and Board were exported, they became a different kind of film. Look at how the Takt og Tone poster was adapted for the German version, where it was called the vernacular equivalent of Professor Bumske’s Love School:
As well as the rather crass new title, there’s one key amendment:
That misrepresentation of the spanking scene – unchanged in the actual print of the film that was shown in Germany – makes my core point: films that were mainstream comedies inside Denmark were marketed abroad primarily as soft porn, offering one particular mode of ‘delight’ rather than the range of ‘festlig, fræk, forrygende, farverig’ appeal it had for the Danes. The boundary between porn and mainstream wasn’t a fixed and universal one, but a matter of where the different national cultures preferred to draw it. The same film could be two different things depending on where you saw it.
The amended German version of the drawing also raises a question. If bare bottoms in Denmark occupied roughly the same place on the ‘titillation scale’ as panties did in Britain, then why do the films show girls being spanked on their panties and not their bare bottoms?
Leaving aside the obvious practical point that, with a bare-bottom spanking, it’s harder to do a retake if anything goes wrong the first time round, the reason has to do with purpose and personnel. We’ve already seen how the spanking in Takt og Tone moves the story onward, and this is usually the case with such scenes, in all mainstream narrative media, everywhere: it’s quite uncommon to find a totally inconsequential spanking like the one at the end of Danish Bed and Board. This means that the girl who gets spanked will have to carry her share of the story, and will therefore have been cast at least partly for her acting ability, rather than merely because she looks pretty (with or without clothes). You have only to look at the run of reaction shots in Takt og Tone to see the richness of the performance Lone Hertz is giving as a soundly spanked young woman:
Pursuing the Carry On analogy will help us here. In particular, let’s take a closer look at Carry On England, a film which, if you only know it from the one screenshot shown so far, you’ll be surprised to learn is set in 1940. The location is a military base crewed by soldiers of both sexes. After they are segregated by their commanding officer, the boys and girls both independently decide to tunnel between the two dormitories, and go looking for some naughty fun – which they never get to have, because with two tunnels they keep missing one another. The sequence features some nice rear views of some distinctly non-1940s panties as the girls crawl through the tunnels:
(Patricia Franklin there was obviously taking no chances!)
But not all of the girls are given the same degree of exposure. They’re all in their night attire:
But the two wearing pajama bottoms as well as tops are the principal young actresses in the film, Diane Langton and Judy Geeson, whereas the other three are the eye candy.
Now set the exposure scale back to ‘Danish’ and think of Lone Hertz and Susanne Jagd as the equivalents of Judy Geeson and Diane Langton. There’s nudity around them, in the girls who have been cast for the purpose, but they themselves aren’t required to participate. Even at the very end of Takt og Tone, as Lone’s character undresses for her wedding night, what we are shown is the clothes being thrown at her husband from off camera, followed by a ‘nearly nude’ moment witnessed by the Dowager Baroness on the surveillance system, but with modesty preserved by a carefully folded towel:
And that’s why, when the moment comes, the actresses are not spanked on their bare bottoms, but their panties: it’s the same, in ‘Danish’ terms, as the pajama bottoms in Carry On England, putting the spanking scenes, bawdy though they are, decisively on the mainstream side of the borderline.